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The Ten Commandments


An Easter movie tradition since I was young, built on ABC showing it each year the night before the holiday, Cecil B. DeMille's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS is a massive movie on every scale.

Clocking in at nearly 4 hours, DeMille tells the story of Moses from his birth to death with plenty of spectacle and big performances from a big cast.

Charlton Heston is Moses, capturing the man's despair when he falls from Prince of Egypt to the hard labor of a Hebrew slave.

Yul Brynner is terrific as his brother Ramses, all ego and bombast in the face of any challenge.

We all know the story by now, so the pleasure of the film is watching DeMille throw everything he has at the screen. There are massive outdoor sets, the best special effects that 1956 could buy (no, they dont hold up very well today) and what must have been a year long shoot on Mount Sinai and throughout Egypt.

When Moses is sent back to Egypt to convince his brother to "Let his people go", all the scenes of the plagues and the final Passover night are perfectly staged by DeMille.

No one is ever going to accuse DeMille of having a light touch. Some of his actors are completely out of control. Anne Baxter is horrible as Nefretiri, chewing the scenery down as fast as DeMille can build it. Some of her final scenes are so strange in motivation I still can't figure out the logic after many viewings. Edward G. Robinson seems like he time traveled as a 1930's mob boss to become a Slave master. As Billy Crystal used to hilariously say, Robinson practically yells "Moses, yer a wise guys, see.." and Vincent Price is less than convincing as a violent builder lusting after beautiful slave women.

There are some great standouts beside Heston and Brynner, including Yvonne DeCarlo and John Derek.

The scenes with the burning bush, the creation of the tablets and of course the entire half hour sequence depicting the Exodus from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea are all part of film history.

Those are 15,000 real extras on camera during the exodus scene. Today, there would be nothing but CGI people on the screen and there's something to be said for the real thing, but Ridley Scott's parting of the red sea in 2014's "Exodus: Gods and Kings" is far more spectacular.

You have to hand it to DeMille. He keeps this old fashioned, family entertainment moving for nearly four hours without slowing down, crafting a powerful story for the ages.

I think it would be against some commandment somewhere not to pull this expensive chestnut out every couple years for holiday viewing.

When adjusting box office results for inflation, only 6 movies have ever grossed more than this massive 1956 blockbuster. When you can only show it 3 times a day in theatres, that's even more impressive!

We'll appreciate the kitsch and the overacting right along with the spectacle and give it a B.

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